Given that director Sam Mendes and Daniel Craig have said that their favorite Bond film is the dire Live and Let Die (1973), we’re lucky that the Oscar-winning smash Skyfall (2012) turned out as well as it did. The more lumpen Spectre begins by referencing Live and Let Die, and never really recovers from that bad mojo. It’s one of those series entries that can’t top its exciting opening sequence, which, for some, will be instantly spoiled by its reviled (yet: Oscar-nominated! Golden Globe-winning!) theme song. But it doesn’t fade into oblivion, either, and winds up in the middle of the pack, buoyed by some other snazzily staged and photographed setpieces. With SPECTRE back in the fold, however, more was expected, not an unsuccessful family saga that’s supposed to tie together the Craig era. Legend has it that when John Huston departed Hollywood for World War II, he prankishly left the not-quite-finished Across the Pacific (1942) in an awful bind, plotwise, for the next director to clean up–with Mendes apparently gone, it’ll be a job of work moving Bond 25 past winking self references and the story knots the series is now in.
The Blu-ray of Spectre may be the first of several, as the series is repackaged and new supplements are added. It looks fantastic, with the transfer handling the dust of Mexico City and the dark of night in Rome with equal precision, and the lossless DTS-HD MA 7.1 audio track is a
monster, one to wake the children and neighbors. Other than a comprehensive look at the filming of the pre-credits scene, the extras will leave you neither shaken nor stirred–brief video logs, trailers, and a gallery of production photos. More could be in the pipeline for some future use, but for casual or disappointed fans I suspect this one disc will suffice.
To repair certain ruptured friendships I gave Crimson Peak another go, and I’m sorry to report that I still found it wanting. Not with the Blu-ray, which is demo material if your idea of “demo material” is lots of spooky production design and skin-crawling audio to match. (The soundtrack is available in a new format called DTS: X, but I experienced it in DTS 7.1, which did the job–love that ball bouncing around the room, one of several exceptoonal directional effects that work as well at home as on the big screen if you have the speakers for it.) Guillermo del Toro poured his considerable all into this vessel, and some drank deeply. I wanted to disappear into it, yet the turgid storyline and game but uncertain performances held me back. I feel for del Toro–no one’s making this kind of opulent, Gothic romance/horror movie anymore, and when he did, no one came to see it. But all that pomp is set atop a rickety structure.
Del Toro gives superb commentary, and the Blu-ray has one, thorough and enjoyable. He’s the sort of commentator who makes filmed supplements unnecessary, but here they are–deleted scenes, a making-of centered on the various rooms the story explores in the title locale, and segments on the cinematography, production design, and effects work. There’s also a lot about the house, including a tour conducted by co-star Tom Hiddleston. Crimson Peak, the disc, is in move-in condition, and the presentation elevates Crimson Peak, the movie.
A Gothic-inflected thriller with more modest landscaping is Estranged, a British effort that at its best is reminscent of Hammer psycho thrillers like Maniac (1963). At its not-so-best, it’s like too many other chillers made since. With amnesia as its hook, it’s the story of January (Amy Manson, a familiar face to BBC-A viewers of Being Human), whom an accident has left in that state, in the care of family members she hasn’t seen in six years and doesn’t remember. And wouldn’t want to recall, as they’re all weirdos–domineering dad, frightened mom, cracked-in-the-head sister, incest-minded brother, and the sinister butler. Did he do it? Or, rather, what did he or someone else do that forced her to flee from the down-at-heel mansion in the first place, and what’s become of her boyfriend, who got her out of there, anyway? It’s worth a rental to find out, not that Adam Levins’ film, from a screenplay by William Borthwick and Simon Fantauzzo, will be at any “Overlooked” fests. Not a bells-and-whistles kind of movie in terms of budget or design, the Blu-ray serves Estranged adequately, and the half-hour making-of is generous with details.
The Texas-made RoboCop ripoff R.O.T.O.R. (1988) is a bad movie hoot, in which an all-mannered tactical robot is brought to life by “Shoeboogie,” a Native American janitor whose come-on lines (“Once you have red, you never leave the bed!”) and a nearby Walkman short-circuit it to life. It just gets stoopider from there, with some of the worst-edited, pretend-we’re-in-combat “action” scenes ever. We live in a world where R.O.T.O.R. and not Greed is on Blu-ray. Millennium and R.O.T.O.R. share a disc, and the former film (another 80s artifact, from 1989) tempers its companion, being a deficient but genuinely thought-provoking sci-fi movie with a “beyond and back” theme. Sort of: It’s a time travel story, involving fatal plane crashes and what seem to be substitute passengers, a phenomenon that entwines NTSB investigator Kris Kristofferson with Cheryl Ladd, a woman of mystery from a future, dying civilization. The movie is just about good enough to make you wish it were better–you don’t give up on it–and would be ideal remake material. Co-starring Daniel J. Travanti and Robert Joy (as “Sherman the Robot”) Millennium was directed by journeyman Michael Anderson, best known for Oscar winner Around the World in 80 Days (1956) and Logan’s Run (1976). At 96, he’s been around long enough (the only living director of a 50s Best Picture winner, in fact) to see Millennium get a decent release on Blu-ray–too bad it wasn’t alone. Trailers for both movie, and an alternate ending for Millennium, are included.
The “specter” of the foreclosure racket hangs heavily over 99 Homes, an American horror story torn right from the headlines about Florida, the “Ponzi state,” where homeowners are routinely swindled. One such victim, Dennis (Andrew Garfield), is an unemployed construction worker who lives precariously in his foreclosed home with his son and mother (Laura Dern). Circumstances enable Dennis to make a bargain with Rick (Michael Shannon), the kingpin behind the evictions and real estate scams, one looked up to by the police. But it’s a Faustian bargain, as Dennis, given a taste of the good life, is plunged deeper into his new boss’ sordid business affairs, and begins evictions himself. We’ve seen elements of this story before, yet they’re worth retelling in this wrenching account, which digs into real-life corruption too easily ignored. Director, co-producer, and co-writer Ramin Bahrani, of the excellent Man Push Cart (2005) and Chop Shop (2007), has done his homework about the situation, and shares his findings on a commentary track. (Only the Blu-ray is exclusive, to Best Buy; the DVD is available elsewhere.) Taking the film out of the realm of docudrama is a solid performance by Garfield as a compromised man and a superb one by Shannon, as an all-too-human monster who reads the fine print, knows all the loopholes, and can turn a victim into a victimizer with just a little persuasion. 99 Homes is easily the most chilling movie of the week.